Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Y'all

From me and my brother.

discovering shocking Christmas facts, probably

Jon is coughing like a someone with cat allergies who just realized he's been laying on the cat couch for the last hour and a half, and I'm tired, so it's bedtime. But we wish you all the best from a warm house in Holland, and hope that Santa doesn't make enough noise when he slips into your house for you to shoot him, because that would be a terrible reason to have your own wikipedia page. Merry Christmas! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jean-Louis Chrétien on Prayer, First Installment

This is the first post in a series, which may itself be the first installment in a meta-series that I hope will accomplish two things. First, I hope it will help me to think through the thesis that I have begun sketching in short, panicked bursts; second, I hope it will be of some general benefit to anyone interested in the questions, problems, and thinkers associated with the "theological" sliver that has pricked phenomenology in recent decades. I also hope that it might be of even more general interest, specifically for anyone who has an abiding interest in the life of faith and its interaction with philosophy.

* * * 

The central text I'm using for my thesis (as I presently envision it) is "The Wounded Word: The Phenomenology of Prayer" by French philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien. Posts that follow in the present series will comprise observations, riffs, and explications that refer to his text (the essay appears in the volume Phenomenology and the "Theological Turn": The French Debate, Fordham University Press, 2000).

This first installment attempts to locate Chrétien's analysis of prayer in its philosophical context. For a way "in" to what he's actually doing, it is helpful to remember that he is attempting a very specific sort of analysis, as the title indicates. Phenomenology examines the essences of things that appear from the perspective of those to whom those things appear - namely, human beings. Since this is the only perspective available to human beings, phenomenology was originally conceived as a movement that would provide a new (or restore an original) foundation for human thought, supplanting the rampant scientism that still persists with more than a century's remove from the publishing year of the phenomenological movement's founding text (Edmund Husserl's Logical Investigations, 1901).

The methodology used to produce phenomenological analyses requires a number of intellectual preparations. One of these we may informally refer to as "the reduction." (There are different reductions, but for our purposes we may refer to "the reduction" as a single thing to represent all of them.) The reduction entails a suspension of one's natural assumptions about the object of investigation, to the highest degree that it is possible; basically, a phenomenologist tries to put their prior beliefs about the object on hold while they carry out their analysis, so that aspects of the object might emerge in clarity that would otherwise be lost.

Sometimes this is a function of how utterly familiar the object, or an aspect of the object, is to the observer. For example, my own tongue is so familiar to me that unless I am provoked by the pain of a sore or the taste of a food I am eating, I am generally unconscious of it. The reduction is partially intended to overcome the sort of invisibility that an object like this acquires as a function of its nearness and familiarity. If one were conducting an analysis of taste or chewing, one would have to relearn to experience (or "see") one's tongue, so as to be able to throw light on the tongue's place in the phenomenon of taste or chewing. I should say that I am sorry if you are now thinking about your tongue.

The reduction also enables a person to reconsider everything associated with the phenomenon she is investigating, so as to come around to an understanding of its essence that is (to whatever degree possible) unencumbered by her assumptions. In the case of a pencil eraser, for example, bracketing my belief that pencil erasers are pink would allow me to reconsider my belief that pinkness is essential to pencil erasers (an assumption that is a product of my having only ever encountered pink pencil erasers). Completing the reduction, then, helps me toward a fresh realization: that the pinkness of the eraser in question is a contingent aspect of it, since there can be erasers of other colors that may be attached to pencils. This isn't exactly an epochal discovery, but hopefully it illustrates one of the benefits of phenomenology's reduction.

So, the reduction is important to phenomenological inquiry and helps to distinguish it from other modes of philosophical analysis. There are two ways in which this is significant for a phenomenological investigation of prayer:

  1. Dominique Janicaud, giving voice to the concerns of many contemporary phenomenologists, believes a phenomenology of religious phenomena to be impossible, because any analysis of this sort would require reference to the framework of religious beliefs that gives religious phenomena their sense; the phenomenological reduction would exclude these beliefs, therefore making a religious phenomenology impossible. Examining religious phenomena in a precise and insightful way is still an option on the table, Janicaud claims; it's just that that sort of analysis simply falls outside the proper purview of phenomenological inquiry, and belongs instead to hermeneutics or straight-up theology. But Chrétien and other philosophers like him are developing phenomenologies that they claim are accurate to the phenomena under description as well as to the project of phenomenology itself. Can prayer, an essentially religious phenomenon, be described without importing theology or metaphysics?
  2. Chrétien seeks to work within the strictures of phenomenology, even while developing an account of prayer that is informed by an array of theological sources. These sources are not so much a set of metaphysical or theological touchstones as a source of illumination for the lived experience of prayer; they throw light back out of their respective bodies of (bracketed) metaphysical and theological belief. The belief systems (or, I should say, the truth of the belief systems) that he borrows insights from are unimportant to Chrétien's analysis on the whole, and the analysis is built to work even after actual belief in God and transcendence has also been bracketed in the reduction. This means that Chrétien does not explicitly develop a theology, although the degree to which his work might be considered theological as opposed to purely phenomenological is still debated. 

(TL;DR) From the perspective of the reduction (numbers one and two above), first, Chrétien's analysis of prayer, if successful as a phenomenology, may be important for the practice of phenomenology generally; second, the type of analysis Chrétien is doing does not permit him to define the essence of prayer according to a particular theology, as would be the case in another context.

With these theoretical items in our handbag, we are almost ready to board the Chrétien prayer train. But first, there is still some further preparatory work concerning phenomenology. I'll save this for installment number two. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Love: a Tough Business

I know I said I wouldn't be posting again for a while but I decided to take a moment anyway to put up a couple stanzas from a poem I like. In doing so, I offer you my inaugural procrastination post. Presently I am avoiding a short paper for our Medieval Philosophical Texts course, for which we are supposed to develop conceptions of Creation in the work of different medieval Islamic philosophers. I know, the idea made me yawn too. Jeremy is still yawning and he finished his paper hours ago.

So this comes from a poem by W. H. Auden, and it's pretty serious.

O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress;
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless. 
O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You must love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart. 
- W. H. Auden, from "As I Walked Out One Evening"

As Auden sees it, we're real bastards, mostly, and to love one another in spite of ourselves is both necessary and miraculous. There is some comfort in the idea that, although loving another person purely may be impossible on this side of the eschaton, it is nonetheless true that "if you do not love, your life will flash by." I suppose that a person's understanding of this idea approaches its resonance frequency in her life when, against all naiveté, she also comes to understand that by choosing to love, she is opting into a tremendously difficult and frequently unpleasant business. Tough crackers for those of us who would rather rid ourselves of all the garbage that goes along with living in our scummy world, and carve out a perfect space in which we may love perfect people perfectly without a shred of selfishness or doubt. Tough crackers for us. 

The poem is worth reading in its entirety if you have a couple minutes, which should be sufficient for giving it a visual sweep and a few seconds of reflection. Be warned, it's a very sober delving into the ceaseless march of time, through us and always away from us. In example:

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.'

So, love: a tough business, yeah, and I suppose the situation is made all the more serious by how little time we have. That's all.

Brief Intermission

Seeing as our academic obligations are ramping up in view of the end of the term, I'm afraid I am going to need to put this blog on a temporary hold. I hope to continue putting up brief posts here and there, perhaps some pictures, but my conscience demands that I spend more of my "free" time reading for thesis research and developing a more detailed outline for the project, and I'm not of a mind to go against conscience in this case. 

Thanks for being the best blog followers around, you guys. See you again soon. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Roof With a View

We have one. Please enjoy the following pictures, which I snapped using the camera that Rachyl sent me. Seriously, my friends are the best.

our point of access

we will rotate to the left, so as to give a sense of the full sweep

still some autumnal color in the trees

wonderful place to enjoy a glass of wine at night ...

... or paw through a philosophical tome during the day 

Justus Lipsius college is the beautiful background building

in the distance you can just make out the cathedral and old town hall

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Everything Stands for Everything Else

Names have not been changed but modifications have been made to the following events, to protect the identities of those involved.


This morning, I stood holding a plastic cup of juice behind Jeremy, who sat at his desk in his padded chair reading his book about who knows what, and I thought to myself as I stood behind Jeremy with my plastic cup, "with my free hand, why not tickle Jeremy," and since I do so much better with commands, I re-thought, "with thy free hand, thou shalt tickle Jeremy," so with my free hand I tickled Jeremy, in the rib area for about one and a half seconds to be specific, and I should say here that at this point my conscience was clean, as it would remain.

Of course, I had forgotten our pact of mutually-assured destruction, and in accordance with our treaty he whipped his head towards me without sound but full of fury and he punched, and in the absence of a sippy-lid my juice didn't stand a chance against Jeremy's fist which is precisely why, when Jeremy socked my juice (its innocence notwithstanding), we almost baptized the hanging kitchen light in sticky kiwi-mango-strawberry spray.

And when the juice fell like a bursting translucent dome and slapped on the grey plastiwood floor all at once, and when I looked at my speckled hand and my empty plastic cup, and when Jeremy realized what he had done and we all started to laugh, at that point life was simultaneously beautiful, tragic, and hilarious for the play of light, the loss of juice, and the clean cut-away of act and consequence, the abyss separating Jeremy's original intention from the puddle on our floor, a congealed mess of hair and dust and crumbs and sweet, sweet nectar that I could still taste even as I looked down upon it, laughing and mourning, welling with tears of jouissance and regret.

O loss of fruit, O impotent towel, O ways in which we do not do what we want. His second punch landed truly, the moment after he apologized for the mess, and in spite of my clean conscience I knew that he was perfectly entitled to it because when he hit me I represented the universe.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thesis Topic: Chosen

I'm writing on the phenomenology of prayer. God help me, right?

Prayer is unique because 1) it may be considered the religious phenomenon par excellence,* a foundation for religious practice generally, and 2) prayer offers (in my nascent perspective) one way of imagining the possibility of a point of contact with the transcendent that may come under true phenomenological description. This is important because more traditional phenomenology brackets away transcendence for being outside phenomenology's proper field of application, which comprises only what is immanent. So, as the subject of this sort of analysis, not only does prayer help to clarify the nature of religious experience, but if a methodologically sound analysis of prayer is possible and can even proceed on prayer's own terms, then there could be implications for the ongoing phenomenological project generally. This is only a tentative hunch, of course.

The idea is connected to a larger, ongoing debate in contemporary French phenomenology over the apparent movement towards more overtly religious themes and ideas, which has roughly occurred within the last thirty or so years. Prominent, traditional phenomenologists regard the exploration and description of prayer, transcendence, and related phenomena as a corruption of phenomenology, a theologizing—"[phenomenological] heresy,"** even. But the philosophers who have taken phenomenology in this transcendent direction, by interrogating the "givenness of the given" itself or by searching for an invisible ground for the domain of the visible, tend to regard their work as being more faithful to the core tenets of the discipline than the traditional phenomenologists themselves, for reasons that are as complicated as the context in which they are given.

Who knows which side of this debate is correct, if that's even a useful question? For my part, I wish only to re-tread a fresh but fairly well-trod path, hoping for illumination from whatever source will give a little light as I try to understand what it is that happens when we open our mouths and address ourselves to an invisible God.

* Jean-Louis Chretien, "The Wounded Word: The Phenomenology of Prayer"
** Jacques Derrida, leveling an accusation against Jean-Luc Marion, a phenomenologist associated with French phenomenology's purported "theological turn," for his belief in the possibility of the "saturated" phenomenon, unbounded by a horizon or the constitutive gaze of the subject. One species of "saturated phenomena" would be theophany.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Leuven Town Hall & Adjacent Cathedral

Just thought I'd put up a picture of Leuven's town hall. There are also two pictures of St. Peter's Cathedral, which is across the square. I do not have the rights to any of these pictures.

each alcove contains a uniquely sculpted figure

they don't make churches like they used to

it is helpful to use the people at the bottom for scale

Friday, November 4, 2011

Glory Be

Once again, I owe an enormous debt of love and gratitude to a friend in the states. The way that a material thing can become such a tangible expression of an immaterial reality, such as a person's kindness - well, it's just something that seems to come under more satisfactory description in the terms of the participatory ontologies of centuries gone by.

the title already hints at the sequel

Last week, I received The Tree of Life as an early Christmas present from Josh, who is a great guy, a real class act. Josh was with me when I saw this movie for the first time, and also the third time, so he's seen me in all my brooding, teary-eyed glory. He is an all-around great dude, and a talented photographer to boot!

Oh man, The Tree of Life. This movie affected me like no other movie I have seen; it met me so perfectly that in weak moments I've been tempted to see film itself as a completed enterprise, as though the artistic and spiritual potential of the medium has been brought to perfect consummation. I don't believe this is really true, or even can be true on account of the ways that truth works through art, but I've been tempted to think it nonetheless. I was tempted anew a few days ago when I gave The Tree of Life a fifth viewing, this time in the company of Jack, Berthold, and my roommates. I am generally unaccustomed to tears so when I get them it makes my face tired. 

And so. In addition, of course, to freaking out about my thesis proposal, which is due on the 15th of this month, I have started work on what could become a two- or three-part review of The Tree of Life. Not a real review (because [1] it's too personal, and [2] I don't have the technical and historical knowledge of film that would help me to write a real review), but an essay, perhaps. There will also be a sort of prolegomena intended to help contextualize my response to it. We'll see how personal it gets. 

Anyway, my last word is to Josh: thank you, Josh, you are an amazing friend. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Axis and Allies and the Best Night Ever

My roommates and I have made two friends here in the past month. Berthold is a Dutch medical student working at a hospital here in Leuven; his English is excellent and he's been so kind as to start helping us learn how to speak Flemish, so that we might at least know how to distinguish the times when people are swearing at us from the times when people are just enthusiastically greeting us and asking us what our names are and how we are today.

Jack is our second friend, as well as our Anglican priest. God's gifts to him include height, volume, and charisma. The fact that he was the dean of a college at Cambridge for over a decade—and by natural extension, of course, that he used to ride out on the fox hunt every Saturday morning, and captained a rugby team, and ate dinner alongside Stephen Hawking for years—sounds extraordinary on paper, but spending time with Jack helps one to see just how much it makes sense. He is the sort of person who seems to be made of tea, biscuits, and tweed. At his apartment a couple weeks ago, I thumbed through his hardbound 500+ page doctoral dissertation, written in French. Seeing it in my hands, he said "it is possible, boys," with an upward inflection on the last word, as British as the Queen. I laid it down on the coffee table, afraid its weight would break one of the wooden legs. 

Ludwig Wittgenstein was also a Cambridge don

Last night Jack picked us all up in a Mini Cooper and drove us to a house in the countryside of Wallonia, where he is taking care of the dog and cats for a few days while the house owner (a Dutch writer) and his family are away. We sat in front of a stone fireplace for tea and wine, and after answering the door to a group of trick-or-treaters (in the Belgian countryside, who would have thought?), we ate dinner in the kitchen. The house was huge, all wood and brick and cut stone, painted in warm colors and stuffed with candles and old books. After we finished off a loaf of bread with Bruge cheese and salmon, Jack fried steaks with an egg on top for each of us. In retrospect, I am quite sure that I hadn't eaten that much protein in the previous two weeks combined, a fact to which my visibly-increased muscle mass seemed to attest today. Unfortunately the effects were only short term and I didn't take any pictures of myself for proof because I am meek. 

I have new culinary experiences here every day 

After dinner, Jack treated us to a very special bottle of liqueur; it had been a gift from a congregant at a church in France where he worked for several years while completing his PhD. Illegally distilled and bottled in the early 80s (according to the handwriting on the yellowed sticker-label), the clear liquid burned from the throat down into the chest, but not before releasing a confusing blend of fruit notes and bits of partly-dissolved cork. Apparently they drink it by the mugful in the region where his church was. 

It was now after ten and we were only on the cusp of the real business of the evening. After another pot of tea, we transformed the finely-appointed living room into a finely-appointed war room for our game of Axis and Allies, the special promise of the night made possible by today's holiday. We unfolded the board, placed our armies, and breathed out whatever blessing the aroma of peach-flavored rubbing alcohol could bestow upon our violently opposed purposes before goose-stepping into the spring of 1942. 

Jack become a more reckless Joseph Stalin, I played Winston Churchill with steely-eyed confusion, and Dan took upon himself the venerable mantle of FDR. Across the table from us, Berthold commanded huge numbers of Panzers and Wehrmacht infantry with an amiability that astonished all of us while Jeremy presided over the empire of the rising sun. He chuckled to himself frequently and made no secret of the fact that he was keeping secrets from us. Berthold benefited from Jeremy's well-tested knowledge of the game, but the hapless Allied novices had to figure things for themselves. This does help to explain an opening Russian offensive. 

Here I tell Dan a joke while Jack reconsiders his decision to attack on his first turn

By the end of the war, Los Angeles had fallen to the battleships of the Japanese, most of Europe had traded hands multiple times, Moscow was still holding fast as Moscow is wont to do, and the sun was just barely starting to rise outside. The Axis powers had won the day, but apparently a new day was already forcing itself upon us so there was no time to mourn the outcome. Jack drove us back, and we returned to our building at roughly the same time as a number of high-endurance partiers. Berthold retrieved his fold-up bicycle from our apartment and pedaled home. 

Getting into bed at 6am this morning, I willfully emptied my mind of strategy and alternate history just long enough to think, "is this really my life?" Getting out of bed in a groggy haze a few hours later, I willfully suppressed my thesis anxiety just long enough to think, "well it sure isn't anyone else's." 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Annie Dillard and Innocence

Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.

On Sunday mornings I usually like to read scripture and sections from a book of practical theology, such as Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure by the man for whom I was named. Today I decided instead to pick up Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

"Ecstatic" might be the most apt word for Pilgrim, a series of deeply meditative and wide-ranging reflections that the author composed while spending a year in solitude near the eponymous creek. Like no other writer I know, Dillard has a remarkable talent for transfiguration. What is familiar to us—assumed, casually passed over, thought to be unremarkable—takes on an unsettling and foreign dimension as she recasts the familiar in her own terms. Insects become horrific voids of meaning, a tree caught in the light at dusk throws open a door to eternity, and the whole world of nature reassumes a majesty and transcendence that the disenchanting movement of modern culture has all but shut out.

In light of themes running through the David Foster Wallace quotations I put up recently, I can't help but share an extended section from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; here Dillard reflects on self-consciousness and its opposed state which, interestingly, she calls innocence.

Consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present. In fact, it is only to a heightened awareness that the great door to the present opens at all. Even a certain amount of interior verbalization is helpful to enforce the memory of whatever it is that is taking place. [. . .]
Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest. So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree. But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities—looking over my own shoulder, as it were—the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown. And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at every moment, ceases. It dams, stills, stagnates.
Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies. It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people—the novelist's world, not the poet's. I've lived there. I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained. I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, "next year . . . I'll start living; next year . . . I'll start my life." Innocence is a better world. 
Innocence sees that this is it, and finds it world enough, and time. Innocence is not the prerogative of infants and puppies, and far less of mountains and fixed stars, which have no prerogatives at all. It is not lost to us; the world is a better place than that. Like any other of the spirit's good gifts, it is there if you want it, free for the asking, as has been stressed by stronger words than mine. It is possible to pursue innocence as hounds pursue hares: singlemindedly, driven by a kind of love, crashing over creeks, keening and lost in fields and forests, circling, vaulting over hedges and hills wide-eyed, giving loud tongue all unawares to the deepest, most incomprehensible longing, a root-flame in the heart, and that warbling chorus resounding back from the mountains, hurling itself from ridge to ridge over the valley, now faint, now clear, ringing the air through which the hounds tear, open-mouthed, the echoes of their own wails dimly knocking in their lungs. 
What I call innocence is the spirit's unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object. It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration. One needn't be, shouldn't be, reduced to a puppy. If you wish to tell me that the city offers galleries, I'll pour you a drink and enjoy your company while it lasts; but I'll bear with me to my grave those pure moments at the Tate (was it the Tate?) where I stood planted, open-mouthed, born, before that one particular canvas, that river, up to my neck, gasping, lost, receding into watercolor depth and depth to the vanishing point, buoyant, awed, and had to be literally hauled away. These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present. 

 A good lady. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I'll Show You a Package Covered in Stamps, Its Contents Even

Another day, another act of international kindess.

 This is how to cover an international postage charge using only thirteen-cent stamps

"Yo young poet!" - Rainer Maria Rilke

My wonderful friend Ryn sent me a copy of a book I once loved so much that I gave it away. Thank you, Ryn! Reading through the first few letters again has reminded me of why I loved Rilke so much in the first place. If you haven't encountered any of his work before, I would recommend the pictured book, Letters to a Young Poet, and perhaps Sonnets to Orpheus (if you're familiar with the myth) or The Book of Hours (if you're a person of faith). Themes and motifs in Rilke's poetry anticipate Heidegger's phenomenological perspectives on being and language! Which is to say, Rilke is an exciting and brilliant observer of life. Thank you again, Ryn

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Package Address, Etc.

Since moving in to this apartment complex, my roommates and I have discovered that packages larger than a shoebox end up being held at the post office in downtown Leuven, or even at a shipping facility in Brussels, instead of being delivered to our door or put aside for us to retrieve somewhere in our building. After quelling an outbreak of the solipsistic rage that I have begun experiencing with some regularity since leaving the states, I pleasantly discovered that there is an alternative address for packages that will result in their being held for us, conveniently and reasonably, in an adjacent building! It is with delight that I now pass on to you our packages-only address:

 Regina Mundi Leuven
 Martyn Jones, Jeremy Heuslein, and Dan Leonard (Studio C 3.19)
Janseniusstraat 38
3000 Leuven

Please continue to send other mail to the previously-posted Minderbroedersstraat 21 address. 


I wish to enact a new policy, starting with this post, and it shall be called: responding to comments. To contextualize this a little bit, when I started blogging for Everydayness last fall, I had a strange idea about "professionalism" with regard to public writing; it entailed my disappearing from view after putting up each post, and holding back from interacting with any followup remarks (except, of course, in cases where my pride urged me to defend myself for something). 

My reasons for doing this at the time are largely inchoate and sub-rational to me now, as in retrospect they probably were to me back then (sometimes, you just have to go with your instincts to get things done). But in any case, from this day forward I wish to reply to every person who is so kind as to reply to the content of this fledgling blog, as it struggles to get to its wobbly feet


So far, this blog has been concerned almost exclusively with the mechanics of making life work in a foreign context. I love the way that this sort of experience naturally leads to missteps and moments of revealed, unavoidable ineptitude, and how humanizing those moments can be when translated into a narrative form, for the agent of ineptitude himself and for other people. However, as my roommates and I gain speed and momentum in our program, I am going to be increasingly drawn to using this space to work out thesis-related ideas. My good friend and roommie (and future something-in-law or whatever), Jeremy, has been using his blog for just this purpose.

My question, if you'd be so kind as to respond, is: would you rather I leave the theological and philosophical speculations to Everydayness, or might I put up some of those thoughts here? I only ask because a lot of it will likely end up being pretty dry, and I certainly don't want to bore anyone. 

To be clear, the foibles will undoubtedly continue; the question is only whether the inclusion of less personal content would be welcome or unwelcome among the compassionate, intelligent, and patient people who take a weekly glance at this congealed mess of text and photos. 

Okay, great. Cheers everybody; back to the books for me. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

David Foster Wallace

My roommate Dan forwarded me a list of David Foster Wallace quotations. Here are a couple that really stuck out:

And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit "I don’t really mean what I’m saying." So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: "How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean."


We're all—especially those of us who are educated and have read a lot and have watched TV critically—in a very self-conscious and sort of worldly and sophisticated time, but also a time when we seem terribly afraid of other people's reactions to us and very desperate to control how people interpret us. Everyone is extremely conscious of manipulating how they come off in the media; they want to structure what they say so that the reader or audience will interpret it in the way that is most favorable to them. What's interesting to me is that this isn't all that new. This was the project of the Sophists in Athens, and this is what Socrates and Plato thought was so completely evil. The Sophists had this idea: Forget this idea of what's true or not—what you want to do is rhetoric; you want to be able to persuade the audience and have the audience think you're smart and cool. And Socrates and Plato, basically their whole idea is, "Bullshit. There is such a thing as truth, and it's not all just how to say what you say so that you get a good job or get laid, or whatever it is people think they want."

A good dude. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011


For your casual perusal: 

Walking in through the front door. What a judicious distribution of space / things!

Standing in the left corner next to the front door. Jeremy is in "the dock". 

Facing the kitchen, back to the stairs. We have a fridge, a stove, and load-bearing culinary imaginations. 

Facing the stairs, back to the stove. Jeremy is still in "the dock".

Up the stairs, to the sleeping loft! We shall conquer the world of dreams... together. 

Glancing back down, wondering whether Jeremy is still in the "the dock". Whether he knows. Etc.

Surveying the sleeping loft, criss-crossed by buttresses (purely decorative, jerk architects). 

Facing back towards the stairs (notice the window, which affords us unique roof access).

Back downstairs, at the front door. We shall go down the hall to the right. Together.

Facing the front door from the opposite end of the apartment. Bathroom now on right, window on left.

A pleasant window seat appears. Let's get him out of the way and have a look out. Together.

Nice! He did not have to fall very far, also what a pretty day. 

Peering into the courtyard. Audible yelps from below, curiously.

Appreciating the view. Can now hear sirens, wondering about the cause. On a nice day you can see the very face of God. Yelps continuing, commotion below, cause unknown. 

* * * 

Thanks again to Rachyl and co. for providing us with the camera that made this domestic photo-record possible. And my cold is finally gone! It is a good day for these and other reasons. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Two Items

The first: a postcard from a wonderful friend who is studying at Goshen College in Indiana. Leanna, thank you for making my day! Receiving mail really is the best!

I chanted the word "Goshen" to myself for a while, and now it's just a sound (via semantic satiation)

The second item doesn't carry any significance for any of us, although it did catch my eye at a kebab stand. I chuckled:

Sorry, I don't take orders from discarded pieces of paper, no matter how glossy

My roommates and I discussed a number of interpretive possibilities, but I won't enumerate them here. Suffice it to say, the phrase at the top of this party flier leaves most of the work up to the reader. Oh Belgium. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lecture Quotations, Part One

Hilarious out of context, this snippet comes from today's lecture for Philosophical Anthropology, for which we're reading Freud's famous essay "Beyond the Pleasure Principle":

If the breast were continually present, there would be no thought.

Yep. Not explaining that one for ya. You should probably call your mother though.  Perhaps I'll explicate it later, after I figure out how to label this post without attracting the wrong sort of traffic. Oh Google, you and your keywords.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Down With the Sickness

Just a cold, but it's basically knocked me out. My face feels like it's exploding in slow motion. I wish I could say that every time I get sick, I am reminded of the frailty and contingency of human life and that I am driven, therefore, to a renewed sense of the sovereignty and mercy of God in allowing me to continue in my precarious existence, but that would not be true. I just get really grumpy, is all.

Blech. Time for bed. Time to turn the lights out. Time to gently weep into my snotty pillow. Hah, hah. Just kidding guys. I'm not turning the lights out yet.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Prolegomena to Any Future M.A. Thesis

Dan, Jeremy, and I attended a thesis workshop today that was really a lecture delivered by the head of the institute's international program. He said: 

"Well, the thesis is worth twenty-four out of your sixty total study points for the program. That's forty percent! And if you spend forty hours each week working on your philosophical pursuits, as my colleagues and I hope you will, well, I haven't done the math but suffice it to say that we wish for you to spend a lot of time on your thesis this year."

Forty percent would mean sixteen hours each week. We have thirty-two full weeks until (ideally) our rough drafts are ready for our advisors to review. So, between the hours each week and the number of weeks, that's, well, that's five hundred and twelve (512) hours. 

Five hundred and twelve hours to produce twenty thousand words, at an average rate of six hundred and twenty five words per week, or about thirty-nine words per hour. 

I can do thirty nine words in an hour! Bring it on, thesis. Let's dance. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Pictorial Play in Two Parts


by Marty Jones or whatever 
also, Photo Booth

* * * 

 A box with my name on it! What!
Inside the box, there are things, delicately wrapped in paper! Whoa!

 A heartwarming personal note! 
The handwriting is elegant, but doesn't make me feel bad about my own!

 A card from a buncha dudes that has a cat on it! Classy and deeply felt!

Tea supplies! My fingers look strange in this photograph!
They are attempting to hold too many different items!

A camera! It can zoom, or not zoom! Depends on what you want!



Smelling the marijuana...

 That is potent marijuana you guys! 

Just kidding, it's looseleaf tea. Tea is a drug you can drink. 

* * * 

And that's the story of my afternoon. My friends are the best!

To Rachyl and company, thank you, thank you, thank you. I am amazed by your kindness and intentionality; shipping a package internationally is no casual undertaking. I don't take it lightly, and I appreciate it. Thank you.

And now for some apartment pictures!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Benefits of Life in Belgium, Part 1

The cheapest beer, the cheapest second-hand glass. 

Monetary Policy and Maturity

Fifty euros can buy two or three heavy bags of basmati rice, a new book, a pair of used books, a set of utensils, some chipped dishes, a derelict couch, a stolen bike, fries for a month, a new shirt, a trash can, a nice comforter, a cheap pair of shoes, postage for a package that can't leave the continent, postage for a three letters that can, assorted groceries for two weeks, a rice cooker, or student health insurance for ten months.

Fifty euros and eleven US dollars: this is the total amount of legal tender in my possession. I'm leaning towards the rice cooker, and perhaps, after a special dispensation of grace, I will be able to send my letters; beautiful missives addressed to National Education, Nelnet, and my other lender, requesting that my loan repayments be put on hold without incurring the penalties I probably deserve for "doing it wrong."

At the end of the day, I love my life and the season my life is entering. The various forces at work on me and my roommates in the last two weeks have pushed each of us right up to the existing boundaries of our virtues (although perhaps I speak too quickly for Jeremy and Dan). A sort of alienating friction complicates our daily doings, but it seems to force me, at least, out of my insecurity and passivity—who has time for insecurity or passivity when sleeping under a roof at night is an open question in the afternoon, or when you need to immediately procure information about a ticket for the last train home when the information is not available in English?—and this alone seems to me to suggest a certain trajectory of development for the upcoming year: one that pulls personal identity out of abstraction, uncertainty, and the infinity of possible choices, and instead gives it a tiny but definite existence.

At the risk of sounding like an idiot (give me a break, I'm exhausted from traveling), I mean something like a sense of self that is not valued in itself (e.g. as "material" for creating autobiographical art) and that naturally resists prolonged, morbid introspection, a sense of self that instead manifests in a particular perspective through which to look out, and a peculiar voice with which to say what it is that you see. Seems pretty adult, something that people who have it don't think about, or think about thinking about, because they're too busy being human beings or something. It's assumed, not sought after, and in some ways perhaps it represents a mutual understanding between yourself and the impersonal world you are trying to navigate, which will not give you any extra time to deal with your personal issues because it moves unremittingly, without concern for its inhabitants. Of course, I mean only the natural world, but anyway.

I am pleased to report that we have metal utensils now, and two glasses. The third one broke on Jeremy's hand when he tried to wash it; a sheet of paper towel helped to stop the bleeding in lieu of a bandaid or cloth bandage. When we first got back from the second-hand store there had magically appeared a new desk in our apartment, and someone had also slid a letter under the door. It's as though we really live here or something! So I think to myself as I look out the window towards the distant spires of the old city hall, a building that has cast a shadow over the cobblestone square below it for centuries and centuries.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tough Love

Jeremy installed filter software on my computer that blocks


Goodbye, rage comics, memes, and other trivial items.

It's time to be serious I guess.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Today is the first official day of our program. Jeremy, Dan, and I assume that we will need to take the following courses:

  • Philosophical Anthropology (primary text: Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle)
  • Philosophy of Being (primary text: Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
  • Ethics (primary text: instructor William Desmond's Ethics and the Between)
  • Theory of Knowledge (primary text unknown) 

In addition to completing coursework, each of us is expected to have a substantial thesis outline completed by November 15th. So it begins! 

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Just some pictures of the university library, no big deal. Interior:


So yeah, that's the library. It's pretty cool or whatever.